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Hanukkah (Hebrew: חנוכה,
also spelled Chanukah), also known as the Festival of
Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday beginning on
the 25th day of the month of Kislev, which may fall
anytime from late November to late December. It
celebrates the re-kindling of the Temple menorah at
the time of the Maccabee rebellion.
The festival is observed in Jewish homes by the
kindling of lights on each night of the holiday - one
on the first night, two on the second, and so on.
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Hanukkah, from the Hebrew word for "dedication" or
"consecration", marks the re-dedication of the Temple
after its desecration by Antiochus IV and commemorates
the "miracle of the container of oil." According to
the Talmud, at the re-dedication of the Temple in
Jerusalem following the victory of the Maccabees over
the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated
olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for
one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days -
which was the length of time it took to press, prepare
and consecrate new oil.
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|Hanukkah is also
mentioned in the deuterocanonical books of 1 Maccabees
and 2 Maccabees. 1 Maccabees states: "For eight days
they celebrated the rededication of the altar. Then
Judah and his brothers and the entire congregation of
Israel decreed that the days of the
rededication...should be observed...every year...for
eight days. (1 Mac.4:56-59)" According to 2 Maccabees,
"the Jews celebrated joyfully for eight days as on the
feast of Booths."
The martyrdom of Hannah and her seven sons has also
been linked to Hanukkah. According to the Talmudic
story and Book of Maccabees, a Jewish woman named
Hannah and her seven sons were tortured and executed
by Antiochus' for refusing to bow down to a statue and
eat pork, in violation of Jewish law.
Historically, Hanukkah commemorates two events:
* The triumph of Judaism's spiritual values as
embodied in the Torah (symbolized by the Menorah,
since the Torah is compared to light) over Hellenistic
civilization (considered darkness). Under Antiochus
IV, Jewish religious practices were outlawed, and
Greek religious symbols were forcibly installed in the
* The victory of the Jews over the armies of Antiochus
IV. The rebellion, begun by Mattathias Maccabee and
continued by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, ended in
a resounding victory of the "few against the many" and
the rededication of the Second Temple.
Because Judaism as a religion shies away from
glorifying military victories, the Hasmoneans later
became corrupt, and civil war between Jews is viewed
as deplorable, Hanukkah does not formally commemorate
these historical events. Instead, it focuses on the
Miracle of the Oil and the positive spiritual aspects
of the Temple's rededication; The oil becomes a
metaphor for the miraculous survival of the Jewish
people through millennia of trials and tribulations.
The name "Hanukkah" is interpreted in many ways.
* Some scholars say the word was derived from the
Hebrew verb "חנך" meaning "to dedicate." When a new
house is built, it is customary to hold a "חנוכת בית"
or dedication ceremony, before moving in. On Hanukkah,
the Jews mark the rededication of the House of the
* Others argue that the name can be broken down into "חנו",
from the Hebrew word for encampment, and the Hebrew
letters כ"ה, which stand for the 25th day of Kislev,
the day on which the holiday begins: Hence, the Jews
sat in their camp, i.e., rested from fighting, on the
25th day of Kislev.
* Hanukkah is also the Hebrew acronym for "ח' נרות
והלכה כבית הלל" meaning "eight candles as determined
by House of Hillel". This is a reference to the
disagreement between two rabbinical schools of thought
- Hillel and the House of Shammai - on the proper way
to light Hanukkah candles. Shammai said that eight
candles should be lit from the start, and reduced by
one candle every night, whereas Hillel argued in favor
of starting with one candle and lighting an additional
one every night. The custom today is based on Hillel's